Many years ago
I had newly joined Facebook and had put up a post about how I was shamed by a certain person (with whom I was in a social relationship) in front of many people. My voice was angry, the tone was that of blame and even as I typed the post on my keyboard, I was numbed by a feeling of deep powerlessness. The response to that post was overwhelming. Many liked and commented and told me that they knew what I felt. That was nice. But I will tell you something I did not have the courage to say that day. Even though I felt good that quite a good number of people commented that day, the feeling of powerlessness did not quite disappear. Or recede even a teeny weeny bit.
Couple of years after that, I published, “How I as a Single Mother Reclaimed Goddess Lakshmi” and again I got an overwhelming response. But this time, I felt in-charge. Powerful even, in a calm, centric way. That was when I sat down and examined both the posts:
1. The first post was blame-framed. I was blaming the other person; I was blaming the society which birthed such people and at some level, I was also blaming me for the forced silence that I had chosen at the moment(which had become my identity until that point of time). The second post was framed in the outcome I wanted to have.
2. In the first post, I had accorded my power to the “other”. In the second, I took back the same power and integrated into me.
(Those of you, who are busy scrolling my TL to find the first post, stop. I deleted it long time back. But if you are looking forward to reading my essay on Huff post, I will share it at the end.)
Anyway, those posts, the responses to them and my subsequent foray into change work also made me study how people use the spaces on Social Media to strike conversations around health and well-being. Also I realized that during both these times (the time I was doing the FB post and the time I was writing my essay), all I wanted to do was to connect with like-minded people. I felt deeply grateful for the people who reached out at both times.
When I was studying NLP and Psychology, I came across this brilliant concept called Karpman’s triangle. For those of you who are curious here is the link. Also, I think the diagram below will give you a somewhat rough idea about what it is. Karpman’s triangle became my favorite tool.
It not only helped me work with my clients in an efficient manner but now they were also able to own their journey in a more holistic, wholesome way.
I was also able to monitor my own internal chatter. One evening after a nasty argument with my father, I realized how I was talking from a victim frame and it amused me greatly. After the realisation when I talked to my father, I was more aligned, more open and was able to tell him what in his POV was not working for me.
Anyway, coming to Social Media:
Yesterday a young, brilliant actor who I admire deeply died due to suicide. I was shocked and in great pain. But more about that later.
As I started to scroll my newsfeed, I saw the Karpman’s triangle play in full throttle:
People were feeling angry and vulnerable. Unknown to them, they were mapping out their past experiences with the experience of the young man who just died in a manner that made sense and seemed logical to them. And from this space of vulnerability and intellectualizing of his death, there arose a sigh of anger which within moments turned into an echo chamber of angry, frustrated cries.
See, although people might tell you otherwise, sometimes anger helps, rage helps, and wrath helps. But without an outcome in mind, anger, rage, wrath would remain just that– a few fabulous sounding posts on Facebook that get a lot of engagement but seldom start meaningful conversations.
The other day I was reading Dr Ambedkar’s, “Anhilition of Caste” and as I sat there awestruck by it all– the level of detailing, his explaining of how the first caste got created, his bold, provocative stance(thoroughly understated), his tendency to appreciate the people who opposed him, and all this from a place of empathy and compassion, I asked myself, “Why couldn’t he just blame the caste system and be done with it?”
The answer came to me loud and clear, “BECAUSE THAT COULD HAVE BEEN DAMNED EASY…SO BLOODY DAMNED EASY…SO EFFIN DAMNED EASY”
All the Change Agents who I deeply admire be it Dr Ambedkar, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou or Madame walker, they transformed their anger into something deep and powerful.
All the Social Media Change Agents who I follow and engage with on a regular basis continue to do that from a place of vulnerability, strength, and total congruence. Because adding to the chaos is always easy. To step away from the chaos is what sows the seeds of change. And that is what warriors do—whether it be mental health, wellbeing, or even otherwise.
Save the other
A few years ago, I had gone to pick up P from his Junior college and was waiting in the lobby for his classes to get over. There I saw a woman and we got along chatting. There were lines of worry creased on the woman’s forehead as she talked about her daughter.
“What to do Madam?” she muttered, “The girl does not know what is good for her. So I follow her around. I accompany her to her weekend classes, I take down notes, and I also note down my doubts so that I can ask the professors at a later date”
The conversation amused me and for a moment I was even guild-ridden wondering whether my own free style parenting was good enough for P and J. Whether I should do what the woman did because P and J were children…and err…they did not know what they wanted?
Anyway, all I did was a mental eye roll and stopped at that.
See, some aeons and aeons and aeons ago, when we as humans were just beginning to evolve, we formed colonies near streams, hunted for our food and built houses out of whatever we could find from the forests. The stronger of the pack took it upon themselves to protect the ones with not so many resources. Because only by protecting or saving the other could they preserve our tribe. Only by protecting could they ensure that we multiplied. So our need to protect stems from this very blueprint of human-ness.
However over the years we have grown and developed; we make independent choices. Or at least we know that we have the right to make independent choices. Leaders no longer emerge, we choose and vote for them. So what happens when you put up messages such as, “My house is open…”, “I am here to listen….” Or “Someone’s listening” posts on Facebook when you do not have the adequate qualifications to affect change?
You would of course connect with your innate human-ness which is fabulous but also unknown to you perhaps you would be doing one or all of the following:
1. Create a dysfunctional system of co-dependency.
2. Make the person feel safe in their un-resourceful states. See you cannot change/transform a person from a place of passive listening. It has to be done from a place of deep trust. If you put up posts of the above kind on Facebook to satisfy your innate need to feel good about yourself, the chances are during the course of “your listening”, you will inflict more danger on the person who has reached out to you.
Therapy (the change work—NLP that I am deeply invested in) goes beyond “offering wise counsel”, “conversation across coffee table”, “default empathy” and “passive listening”. It is radical and cuts across the neurological levels of the client.
Once a young woman who came to me for a seemingly mild problem and in the course of the session discovered that deep within her, she was carrying her grandmother’s voice since her childhood. The session with her lasted for two hours.
Two days later, she texted me this: “The kind of peace and positivity in life you have put in into mind is priceless. Now I am able to take everything in a little positive way instead of getting emotional towards simple things. Thank you so much for showing me the way to life how it should be.”
Understand that making claims on (Facebook and elsewhere) comes with a lot of responsibility. Educate yourself thoroughly before you put up posts like that.
Once upon a time, in a party that I had been to, one man was telling the others how when he went to Thailand he fed bananas to the tigers and how gentle they were.
“I mean” he said looking at his audience, “You know these animals as cruel and beastly…right? But here they were eating the fruit right off my palms. Oh it was so serene.”
“But…but…”I muttered, “Cruel….gentle are all man made constructs. In the forest, the tiger and the antelope don’t know these concepts. They know only how to hunt and escape.”
The man looked at me and frowning his eyebrows muttered, “Why do you have an opinion on everything?”
Dayum! My voice shut down just like that. Because I belonged to the less superior of the human species perhaps.
Over the years after the incident, I examined my own prejudices. How many times did I dismiss a person’s opinions just because they were not “as qualified” or “as educated” as me? How many times did I laugh at a person’s “ignorance” even when I had the opportunity to educate?
The persecutors are the persons who have the skills and experience to affect change in a particular situation. Yet they take the easy route out. They attach labels such as “needy”, “woke” to the other two sets of people because they think they are morally/culturally/socially superior. To these people I will say only this:
“A society cannot evolve no matter how much freedom is granted when citizens are more focused on one other than on their own beliefs and values. (Edwin Friedman)“
And so it keeps happening on Social media. Every time an event of tragic proportions happens, we shift from one corner of the triangle to the other to maintain the entropy, to keep the chaos un-changing. The real conversation never happens. The real change never begins.
What can I Do?
So how do we affect change through Social Media? Step away from a place of shame into that of vulnerability and trust.
1. Talk about your triumphs, however big or small they might be. What did you do differently when you woke up with a panic attack? Did you do a breathing exercise? Did you go for a walk? What was the self-talk you were doing at that time?
Listen… there is no rigid monolithic definition of empathy. Every time you share something that has worked for you on Social Media and someone is able to connect with that experience although they might not have “liked” or “commented” on your post, know that you have empathised and connected.
2. Create check-in circles with the people who you trust and believe.
3. Draw healthy boundaries. Dis-engage from toxic people/spaces. Understand that it is okay to not talk about your un-resourceful state with certain people.
4. Do journaling. Again knee jerk outpouring in the diary only strengthens an un-resourceful narrative. Message me if you want to do a session on expressive writing.
5. Become curious about processes. Does slow walking help? Do breathing exercises help? Does singing help?
A few years ago, a friend with whom I had broken up a couple of years back died by suicide. When she was alive, she and I had shared a complicated relationship. She would praise me and humiliate me in turns so I could never quite understand where we were heading. The day I learnt that she had ended her life, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of guilt. Perhaps I should not have ended the friendship, I told myself. Perhaps, I should have thought more about why she did what she did. Perhaps I should have reached out. I felt angry for the many times I felt angry with her.
Only after several days of tormenting myself was I able to realize that the hurt I had experienced at the time of breaking up with her was also valid and real. Also when I was telling myself that I had no means to anticipate what my friend would do to herself, I was not making an excuse, I was telling the truth—one that was as real and as tangible as the books on my table.
The realization liberated me.
“How then can I remember her?” I asked myself on a particularly melancholic evening. Because until now I was remembering her with anger which later morphed into guilt.
I then remembered the way she laughed with her eyes lighting up and deep chuckles emanating from deep within her throat. I knew the mental picture I had to frame in my mind and click it there. Finally after many months, I could feel a hint of closure.
As for Sushant Sing Rajput, to me he would always be the young man who would stare into the stars deep into the night, who loved physics and movies with equal aplomb and whose smile could light up the whole room. I connect with the alive-ness of that memory because I know only through this aliveness I can create change, a change that is vibrant and sustaining and living like the earth itself.
(I have deliberately discarded the labels while writing this post because I wanted folks to focus on the structure of the conversations on Facebook/Social Media.)
Read this article by Dr.Richard on depression: http://www.transformations.net.nz/trancescript/nlp-and-the-rediscovery-of-happiness.html?fbclid=IwAR2YP7rSA1Z6HK3mRoZEVxVr_oyFW5jhNMWAVEiNvw9uoYebKqD9W4pdgiI
My article on Huff Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/sridevi-datta/how-i-as-a-single-mom-rec_b_7059914.html
©: Sridevi Datta